Lion prides, laughing hyenas and elephant herds | Kruger National Park

After spending the past three days having the most insane wildlife encounters in the southern part of Kruger, today we’re making our way a little bit north. We’ll use Hazy View as our base which is about 25 minutes from the nearest park gate. These are the wildlife encounters we had during our four days exploring this part of the park:

DAY 4

We had a bit of a quiet day in the park…I guess with every day we spend here we want to see more of the big cats so elephants and baboons crossing the road has become rather normal…but still a delight to witness. We saw our first owls in the park which had funny pink eyelids and looked like the 90s Furby toy. We also stopped at Panic Lake where hippos were poking their faces out the calm water. I don’t know what causes it but they can be so noisy all of a sudden and once one starts snorting they all join in.

Today was a transit day so we had the trailer on the back as we were heading north to Hazy View for the next 4 nights. When we got to the exit gate the rangers said we couldn’t go through as there were protests blocking the road in the townships. It meant we had to backtrack a bit and take the longer route to the Phabeni gate but it turned out to be a blessing as we spotted some wild dogs who’d just made a kill. Behind the dogs was a hyena who they seemed unfazed by, as if they were all buddies and maybe even helped one another with the kill.

Further down the road was a hyena mum and baby sleeping on the grass and a lone hyena strolled right past us too. Then a whole pride of 15 lions crossed the road in front of us! Boy were we happy that first gate was closed.

DAY 5

From Hazy View we headed to the Phabeni Gate and entered the park again, soon after arriving I spotted two wild dogs with bloody chests from a kill they’d clearly been eating. They walked close to our car and then strolled down the road between the cars like they owned the place.

Later that morning we spotted two rhinos running up a hill with a helicopter chasing them so we pulled over to see what they were up to. We could see people sitting on the edge of the open helicopter and realised they were probably darting the rhinos to do a health check or replace a tracking collar. The rhinos were fairly hidden in the bush but they both fell asleep from the tranquilliser and then a veterinary car pulled up and people headed over to the rhinos on foot. It was hard to tell what was going on but I started hearing a chainsaw and then the smell of burnt hair came into the car. I suddenly realised they were cutting the horns so they are no longer a target for poachers which often leaves them severely injured or dead. In 2007 there were 13 recorded cases of poached rhinos but in 2014 they had a whopping 1215. The rhino horn is used and sought after in Asia for it’s supposed medicinal property’s, however theses days it’s also become a wealth and social statement to own one.

They gave something to the rhinos to wake them back up at which point everyone vacated the area and the helicopter took off. The two rhinos charged off into the bush and vanished from our sight. The helicopter didn’t leave though, there was one more rhino in the area that still had its fabulous pointy horns so we watched it running away from the helicopter until it was darted and the crew all returned to remove it’s horn. It’s such a shame they have to go to such extreme efforts but by cutting most of the horn off it means poachers won’t have any horns to steal….and the poachers do it in the cruelest way, some are cut straight out the face with an axe while the poor animal is still alive. They also put traps in the bush to capture animals which is why vehicles are inspected on arrival and departure to the park. While we were watching the rhinos two hyenas ran past us up the road and one of them had a huge animal leg in it’s mouth which was covered in bloody-flesh.

We stopped at a rest camp for some coffee and there were plenty of Vervet monkeys roaming around the area, trying to steal food. One succeeded and managed to snatch a whole tub of pineapple which caused a bit of a ruckus amongst the troop. Other sightings for the day were two hyenas precariously close to a crocodile and a leopard who we watched walk across the dirt road and lay down in the dry riverbed.

DAY 6

We were a little concerned about driving to the park today, we were warned that a nationwide strike was taking place but no one seemed to have anymore information about it. The security at our lodge said it was too risky to drive but other people said it would be fine so in the end we decided to go for it – but we packed extra food and warm clothes incase we had problems exiting the park later in the day so we could sleep in the car if the shit hit the fan. We ended up having quite an uneventful day with hardly any wildlife but luckily we had a lovely treat when we arrived at a watering hole at the same times as about 50 elephants.

Suddenly herds were coming from all directions to get into the cool water. Some used their trunks to slosh water and mud across their backs while others laid down and collapsed sideways into the muddy pools. After their bath most of them headed to the forest line where the ground was dry and dusty so they used their trunks to throw dust all over themselves, I assume to act as a sort of natural sun protection.

The elephants seemed to be the main event for the day but as we were driving towards the park exit we spotted lions crossing the road. It was the same pride we’d seen cross the road a few days before with 15 lions. A few of them walked right past our car while others were moving through the scrubs. It was hard to see where they went next so we turned around and thankfully a lovely couple said “they’re right down here drinking” before driving off so we could take their prime-position.

My goodness were we in for a treat, all 15 lions were laying down and drinking from a shallow pool. It was the most incredible sight, they were separated into three groups and all laid down and gently licked the water. We were in the perfect position on a bridge just above the water with a clear view down to the lions. They were very aware of us, staring straight into my eyes while drinking the water. The pride had a couple of younger lions but most of them were fully grown so witnessing 15 of them together was incredible. We all had huge grins after that once in a lifetime sighting.

DAY 7

Today we were entering the park via the Orpen gate further north which meant we had to wake up at 3:30am and leave by 4am! It was a two hour drive so I snoozed for most of the journey and we arrived just as the sun was rising. As soon as we entered the park I spotted a hyena on a small hill and then we had around 20 of them running towards us!! It was crazy and they all scattered around us into the grass. We could see some of them had bloody fur and their belly’s were absolutely humongous so it seemed like they were all feasting on a carcass. We drove a little further along the road and managed to spot the kill, we think it was a buffalo because of the size but it was impossible to tell really. The hyenas have a female matriarch and she gets first dibs on the food, along with her pups. It’s a very hard life for the males who seem to be at the end of the pecking order. I was reading some facts about hyenas and apparently the female is larger than the male and her genitalia almost resembles a man’s. It’s quite bizarre. But also the umbilical cord is very short so childbirth can be really traumatic and kill the mum or pups.

The ones who weren’t eating spread out to keep a watchful eye on the area. It was sad seeing the younger males attempting to get some food and constantly being growled away by the alphas. The sound they were making was fascinating, from typical hyena cackles to a bizarre sort of howl that sounded like a mooing cow. Then we spotted a few jackals scanning the perimeter so whenever the hyenas were spooked and scattered the jackals would dive in for some meat and one even stood right beside our car.

Just a kilometre up the road was a little rest camp where we stopped to use the toilets and while most camps have fences and electric wire on the floor to prevent wild animals getting in, this one was totally open. So we were a little shocked when we suddenly saw three hyenas running across the road just 100 meters from us. If they wanted to they could run straight up to us…luckily these ones were probably from the pack we’d just seen and were very well fed.

We then set off north where we didn’t see much wildlife for the rest of the day. The south tends to be more reliable as it has more water and thus a larger population of animals. So we saw hardly anything for a few hours until we spotted a lion stalking a herd of impala. He seemed to give up quickly and rest under a tree though so we continued our drive, spotting our first ostrich along the way. We stopped at a dam where there was a hippo chasing another one up the hillside. Hippos kill more humans than any other land animal in Africa and are very territorial. Being in a boat in hippo infested water is extremely dangerous and they will make an effort to capsize the boat and either bite you to death with their giant teeth or drown you with their huge body weight. There were a couple of wildlife-traffic jams on the way back and we got a brief glimpse of a leopard in a tree before leaving the park.

After four days exploring the park from Hazy View it’s time to make our way back south to stay at Ngwenya Lodge.

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